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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  September 15, 2013 12:00am-1:01am EDT

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this is a little over an hour. [applause] >> thank you. that was a wonderful introduction. i started this book back in 2003 so it's been a ten-year odyssey that the seed for this book was actually planted many years earlier. it was back into mid-1970s when i was seven or eight years old, and there was that day -- i grew up in westchester county new york in a suburb just north of the city and the son of a
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history buff but unlike a lot of people who make that claim the history buff in my family was not my father. it was my mother and of her four children i seem to have been the only one she passed that gene onto. she took advantage of that one day we were driving into the city from westchester and she pointed out a big building up on a hill. she told me that was the bronx va hospital and then she said something that i have never forgotten. she said there were still men in that hospital who had never recovered from being gassed in the first world war. and this made quite an impression on a seven or 8-year-old me. even though i was a small child i knew enough about world war i to know that it happened a really really long time ago. 60 years at that point and it really struck me that there were men who had lived entire lifetime since then still frail
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from what they had endured in that war. i didn't know very much about the war at all. i knew what it was about. pretty much i knew that snape u.s. senate and had done battle with the red errand to a conclusive result. but that stayed with me and it nestled in the back of my mind. one day in early 2003, i was supposed to be working on another book and i was doing what writers do very well which is procrastinate. i heard a gentleman interviewed on the radio and he was talking about the world war ii generation. he said that world war ii veterans were dying off at the rate of 1000 a day and that we needed to get their stories now while we still could. that also made a very strong impression on me but not in a way that the speaker intended because for some reason that day
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, i thought well what about world war i veterans? i i knew a lot of world war ii veterans personally. i have heard a lot of their stories but i couldn't recall having spoken to a veteran of the first world war and i wondered if you were too late already. i did the math. 2003 was 85 years after the armistice that ended the war. i figured somebody that was 20 years old in 1918 with the 105 in 2003. i don't know about you, but the first section i read everyday in the papers the obituary so i knew that people did occasionally lived live to be that old and i thought well maybe i could find two or three and interview them and get an article out of it and then go back to this book that i'm supposed to be working on. that is the way it would have played out except for the fact that i couldn't find any. the first place i called was the department of veterans affairs in washington d.c. and i naïvely
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believed that they would have to print out there waiting for me with the veterans names and their ages and addresses and phone numbers and that they would gladly share it with me. this proved not to be the case. i was told that they didn't have any such database and even if they had they couldn't have shared it with me. and in fact several years later when i was a few years into this search i started getting calls from people at the va asking me to share my list with them. so i moved on. i started calling local va hospitals conquered vfw post american legion post in nursing homes and anyplace i can think of. always the result was the same. we haven't seen a world war veteran in 10, 15, 20 years and they always signed off with let us know if you find any. after a few months of this i got very frustrated but i didn't do
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what her haps a more reasonable person would do which is to just give up and move on to something else. instead i got angry and i decided that since i couldn't find any living american veterans from world war i i would find them all which was quite her father with the time since i haven't found any yet. but then shortly thereafter my stubbornness was rewarded with the first big break i got in the case and that came from a most unexpected source. in 1998, so five years before i started searching for living american veterans of world war i france undertook a program where and they would award france's highest military decoration, the legion of honor to living veterans who had served on french soil in world war i, living american veterans. this was just more than pr. they really wanted to give this
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away so they undertook an intensive search. they ran ads in the fw magazines and american legion magazine national newspapers magazines and by the by the end of that getting about 500 the legions of honor to american men and women who had served on french soil in world war i. i should know note that they didn't just put it in the mail. they had an elaborate ceremony where they dispatched somebody from the french embassy to travel to wherever the veteran in question lives. they put on a ceremony and in a few cases french president jacques chirac himself presented the medal. there was also a big certificate and i don't know if you have ever seen the legion of honor but it's a very beautiful medal. i didn't go to the nep ceremonieceremonie s in the vast majority took place in 1998 and 1999 so by the time i started this would have been four or five years since most of these
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legions had been awarded. i figured 10% of people on the list were still living. but i need that list and i was fortunate in that i became acquainted with an adjutant of the french embassy in washington d.c.. he was really moves by my quest and on his own free time he xeroxed all 550 or so applications and fedex them to me. and he wouldn't take a dime from me either. this i should point out was right around the same time that the congressional commissary started calling french fries freedom fries. this was the spring and early summer of 2003 when there was a lot of tension between americans and france. while this was going on i got my first big break in finding american world war i veterans from the government of france.
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so, i had a list to work off of. it was awkward going at first because they set upwards of 97% of the people had passed away. if you have ever caldehouse looking for someone who almost certainly is deceased can lead to awkward conversations. finally one day i called the house of the gentleman named jay lawrence moffatt. he lived in orleans massachusetts. i will never forget this because i called up and a woman answered the phone. i had already had upwards of 40 conversations that ended with somebody breaking the news to me that the person i was looking for had passed away. and so i guess what i was a little discouraged and i asked her -- i told her who i was and i said is there any chance that mr. moffat is still living? >> to my great surprise she said he is and then while i was still kind of gasping for breath she said would you like to speak to him?
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i did speak to him. he told me a little bit about his service just a little bit and we made plans for me to come up and interview him soon after that. in between the time when i learned of his existence and when i first interviewed him i became very nervous. the source of this was my worry that was i kidding myself? >> could somebody really remember in vivid detail things that they had seen and done and felt 85 years earlier? i had never met anybody who was over 100 years old. mr. moffatt had been born march 6, -- 1897. i was really worried about this. when i got to the house i set up my video camera. we sat down and talked. he lived in a very small house in the woods on cape cod. the only chair in the house was a comfortable armchair that he offered to me but knowing that he was 106 years old i insisted
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that he take it so i sat in the only other chair in the house which was his wheelchair to interview him. i started the interview the way would eventually start all interviews which was with his name. i started with easy questions and tried to move onto more detail. i asked him his name and where he was born and his parents names and his siblings names. things were going okay but i was still pretty anxious about whether or not he would be able to talk to me about the war in great detail. then i asked him a question that seemed very simple at the time. i asked him where he had gone to high school. i want to read to you his answer in full and unedited. i went to high school from lebanon connecticut in the northeastern corner of the state where you grow. that high school was about two miles from home. then i was directed to an insurance company in hartford for a position. i spent my life in insurance. i was hired by two companies one
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and then another and that i went to world war i. i graduated from high school in 1914. i went into the army in 1917 and april of 1917 just before the war was declared. i was in the army for two years. 18 months in france and -- in france. the division was the 26th division made up of the national guard of the six new england states. there were four entrenched they they -- infantry regiments and artillery batteries for a time not acquainted. in the 101st entropy measurement. the hundred and second was made of connecticut national guard. that is where i was the 100 2nd infantry. the 103rd infantry regiment was from maine in the 104th in new hampshire and vermont and artillery mostly from rhode island. i would just like to remind you at this point that this man is 106 years old.
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in connecticut we were assembled in new haven. all the different national guard different national guard company's affinity or symbol in new haven in 1917 in july. and there we went so early in the war there were no transports. we went to my company and i don't know how many others. we went by train the cvs central vermont to montréal and embarked and sailed down the st. lawrence to halifax where we joined several other national guard companies that were ready to go across. a nine-day trip it was and then across the channel to france and then across france to a certain area and the regiment trained for four months there. in february we were sent to the front. at that time the allies britain and france and belgium and others were in the war since 1914. we joined them in 1917 went to the front in a boy of 1918. so the first set there was the allies at that time are defending themselves against the attacks of germany. we were just a defensive action. i was in the headquarters company of infantry regiment and
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on the staff of the colonel along with others. i had the rank of a corporal. i skate the frontline trench warfare but i was subject to constant artillery fire. i spend my 21st birthday in the frontline march 6 of 1918. i went out on patrol with a patrol group that night and we spent two months in upset your. that was our first sector. two months later removed to another sector that tool sector and then came the summer of 1918 and then the closing war and the war was over as you know on november 11 of 1918. president wilson 18. preston wilson paid our company a visit while we were there. and he talked to us and i don't remember, i don't recall now just when that was or what the occasion was that it was maybe a holiday. that was his answer to the question where did you go to high school. [laughter]
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from that moment on i never really worried too much about how well somebody might be able to recall things that they had seen and done 85 years earlier and in fact something i learned very quickly in interviewing us sectarians age 101 to 113 at that age memory is very much a matter of first and last out so most of these people could recall at least to some extent details of things that they had done 80, 90 2100 years ago. there was a gentleman named fred hale from new sharon maine whom i interviewed in december of 2003 in one of the things we talked about was new year's day 1900. i'm not sure fred hale could have told me what he had for breakfast that morning but he could recall vividly what he had for breakfast on new year's day in 1900. i soon learned that interviews really would only get part of the story and the rest i would
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have to fill in from contemporary books and pamphlets and propaganda and an awful lot of sheet music and sometimes artifacts. i discovered along the way that sometimes the whole story wouldn't reveal itself to me for many years and that i would have to be patient. to illustrate that point i want to tell you the story of a gentleman. eugene lee had been a marine. he was in a small upstate new york newspaper shortly before veterans day 2003 in the article was mostly about local world war ii veterans but of mary and there was a short little paragraph that said the only world war i veteran in the area still living was 104-year-old
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eugene lee of syracuse and then it added to my quote here he was no longer able to conduct interviews. i called up the reporter who was very gracious and told me that the source of that information was a gentleman named jim casey. as i said eugene lee was a former marine and so was jim casey. he served in the late 1950s. mr. lee was a widower and had no children. his closest family lived out west. jim casey was sort of an adopted son. he was a gatekeeper and i told mr. casey what i wanted to do. and he said that mr. lee in fact could be spoken to but that his memory was kind of spotty. some days it was good and some days not so good and when it wasn't so good they got frustrated with himself but he told me to come on up anyway if i were willing to risk it which i certainly was.
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on december 3, 2003 at walked into the long-term care wing of the va hospital in syracuse and map 104-year-old eugene lee. worn on march 24, 1829 in salina new york a small town that is now essentially part of syracuse he turned 18 just a couple of weeks before the united states entered world war i. as soon as the united states did enter world war i he dropped out of high school. he only had a couple of months left to go in and listed in the marine corps. for those of you who -- i can assure you that mr. lee did indeed eventually get his high school diploma. in fact he was awarded his diploma on his birthday. this was his 104th birthday. he had it there proudly and display in his room when i visited that day. he enlisted right after america entered the war and was sent to boot camp in philadelphia and assigned to the 51st company
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of the fifth marine regiment. they worship tour de france very early june of 1917 so just a couple of months after america entered the war and in fact he arrived in france about a week or so after john jay pershing the commander-in-chief of the expeditionary forces arrived in france. general pershing was very reluctant to commit on trained american troops to the fight and this was to the consternation of his british and french allies who wanted fresh manpower in the ranks right away. they wanted to use the americans as they had used their own colonial troops which was essentially as replacement troops often the most dangerous and distracting the enemy. general pershing wanted none of this so eugene lee spent his first year in france entirely in training. but then in the spring of 1918 the germans launched a tremendously successful
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offensive. it was the most successful offensive that anyone had launched in four years and they got to within 40 miles of paris. the allies were in a panic. the french made plans to evacuate the capital to bordeaux secretly french and british commanders were telling each other that they thought perhaps the war was lost and at this point the french reached out to general pershing and begged him to commit a couple of american divisions to the fight. general pershing who had great fondness for the french agreed and he committed the second in nerd infantry divisions to the battle. they were sent to château thai lee which is so close to paris as i said only about 40 miles that today people regularly commute every day to one or the other. the two marine regiments in france at the time the fifth and sixth marines were part of the
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second u.s. division so they arrive in the château at the end of may 1918 and beat the germans back. the germans fell back into well fortified positions that they had set up previously at a place called the lowood which was only a few miles away from château to leave. there they had set up concrete fortifications and lots of machine gun nests. the french asked general pershing if he would send the division up to the lowood to ferret the germans out so general pershing sent the second u.s. infantry division up there which included those two marine regiments. accounts of the marines and the entire second division marching from château a few miles to the hello would her wonder view of pre-read them. american troops hadn't been bloodied yet.
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contemporary accounts have them strutting with their chests out joking with each other talking about what they are going to do once they get there. the entire way they are encountering french troops ragged haggard hired scared french troops coming the other way telling them to turn back. and there's a famous story about a marine corps officer named captain lloyd williams who is from virginia and a french officer came up to him and said buck who botched. bosch was a drug or a term for the germans. you must retreat and captain williams now legendary response was retreat? hell, we just got here which seemed to sum up the american attitude at that point in the war.
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the americans got up up there and they duck and it positions across a mile wide field from bellow wood and right away the germans tried to break out in the americans push them back. this happened several times and then on june 6, 191826 years to the day of the battle of normandy the marines decided to go on attack. it was a bad day. the commander of the second division general james c. harvard did not care very much for artillery support of infantry attack so what this meant was that the marines had to launch their initial attack against entrenched german positions in bellow wood across a mile wide open wheat field. if you can just imagine crossing them mile wide open wheat field against machine gun nests hidden in the woods you know what they were up against.
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as eugene lee described it to me 85 years later they would go forward and wait -- in waves so one way would move forward and flatten themselves on the ground and another wave would follow and flatten themselves and on and on. even so is a deadly business. on that first date june 6, 1918 the marines lost 1100 men. it was their worst day in history to that point. they did make it to belleau wood by the end of the day on that first day but the germans who were notorious for counterattacking counterattack surely thereafter and drove them out. for the next three weeks this pattern repeated itself. the americans would take all or part of the woods and the germans would take it back and the americans would take it back from the germans and on and on and on until finally on june the 26th, 1918 the americans took the woods and held them for good
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this was the first major military encounter between american and german troops in the war and it was the first major tree for american troops in the war. it was such a factory in fact the general pershing, i don't know how much you know about the man but you could accurately call him stonefacestonefaced. he was not given to making bold pronouncements or frankly even smiling very much. he issued a jubilant statement that the deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle. as a result ever since belleau wood has been tremendously important to marines. general aphis the commandant of the marine corps told me it was the birth of the modern marine corps but it was very costly birth. in fact the bill was just a little bit under 10,000 casualties and of course in three weeks. one of those casualties on june june 12, 1918 was captain lloyd
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williams the gentleman who said retreat, we just got here. he was killed by fire on june 12, 1918 and another casualty on that day was private eugene lee, 19 years old shots through the wrist. therefore he was evacuated privately helped evacuate more seriously wounded marines and for that he was eventually awarded the silver star which is the second-highest decoration that a marine can get and certainly one of the highest decoration quarter to anyone i had interview. he was very modest about it too. he said i don't know why they gave it to me. i said well i think they gave it to you for it back you waiting war wounded brains even though you were wounded yourself. he said well he didn't think about that and he meant it. but he was eventually evacuated himself. he was sent to a hospital and while in that hospital he made
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the accordance of another marine who have been wanted the day before. this was a gentleman named joe one upped. i regret it for many years after that interview that i didn't ask mr. lee how you spell it. i tried to find any information i could about joe winokur. i tried every spelling i could think of. i could never find any information other than what he had told me. fortunately eugene lee had told me a great deal about him. those were some of the sharpest memories were about his friend. playing baseball. they soon progressed to throwing dice together. joe winook was quite good at it and made enough money to take the tube into paris which is a pretty good place to spend money and they talked about what they would do once they got sent back
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to the front and what they would do have are the war. joe winook was penned from pennsylvania so they didn't live too far apart from each other. they were sent back to the front pretty much at the same time. joe winook have been in the 45th company but he requested transfer to eugene lee's company so they could serve together. it turned out to be a good thing for both of them because they are right back at the front just in time for the start of the battle which was the last great title of the war that started on september 26, 1918 in didn't end until november 11, 1918 when the armistice ended the entire war. in that time more than 26,000 americans were killed. it remains to this day the deadliest battle american troops have ever participated in. so this was like hey -- now i want to move ahead a little bit back to 2003. i'm in syracuse and interviewing
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jim lee and jim casey is there in the room. after the interview was semi-packed up my equipment and jim casey was walking me out. he pulled something out of a file folder. it was a picture of a mess kit cover and carved on this mess kit cover was eugene lee's name and his company. it was his mess kit cover. it didn't look too good, but that was because it had been buried in the earth for 80 years. he dropped it on june 12, 1918 the day he was shot in the wrist and eight years later a french world war i enthusiastic collector dug it up near the village. which is part of the belleau wood battlefield. he did a little research and discovered to his astonishment that the owner of this mess kit
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cover buried in the earth for 80 years was still alive, and in a feel-good movie he would have sent it back to eugene lee who would have left it to his knees or maybe a museum and it may be would even be in the smithsonian but a reminder that life is not a feel-good movie i was told that what actually happened was the collector had found it discovered that its owner was incredibly still alive and realizing this made it much more valuable sold it on ebay instead. i asked jim casey who had bought it. he said he didn't know. but he said if i ever made it to france i should look up a gentleman named -- and that he might be a lose to tell me something about it. five and a half years later i did make a difference and i did look him up. he is a very interesting fellow. he lives in a small town which
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is very close to belleau wood and he grew up hearing stories about the lowood. he started scavenging and collecting from a very young age. everything he had was housed in a barn next to his house and this little village, a very old house and the very old barn. ..
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he managed to carve a likeness of the emblem of the united states marine corps. which is an eagle atop a globe. it was something spectacular. as i said, a five-foot tall chunk of tree truck. i asked how he happened to get it. he miled -- smiled and said it wasn't easy. the museum is popular with marines. many makes pilgrimages to the area every year. it seem like pretty much gives a gift of the t-shirt. he has quite a few. he was wearing on the one day i
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visited him. it made an honorary marine. and -- it was really something. after awhile of him showing me around, i asked him about the cover, and all of a sudden, the man who had been so friendly, and so that righted to show me around it's a big guy, too. in the book i describe him as being built like a shipping crate. he got very nervous all the sudden, and he said, yes, he had heard about it. he didn't know who had it, who sold it, who bought it. i came to understand there's a community of world war i caf german -- scavengers and collectors in france. it's a shadowy league. they don't like each other very
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much. they don't like to speak of each other. that could be in part because the kind of digging that others have done around bella wood and have been doing for many decade has been illegal for several decades. in the 1970, fran banned the use of metal detectors in -- it may be part of that. it may be the competition. i don't know what it is, but he got very nervous. and told me he didn't know anything about it in a way that left me unsure whether or not he was telling the truth. i was certain i wasn't going learn anything more about it from him. so i left this place disappointed, frankly. now, the next day i was in the village, which is close to the bella wood battle field, i noticed that the little museum in the village, which is the only thing of any note in the village happened to be open.
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i was in the area a week already. people were telling me all the time they needed to go there and see it. like at lough things in small town -- france it kept irregular hours. i went in and looked around. there wasn't very much i hadn't seen already in the time they had been in the area. i noticed they had quite a few world war i art facts on display, and unlike the stuff at the place. it was immaculate. it looked brand new. there was a card next to one of the display cases saying they had come from the collection of a gentleman. so i asked him the museum cure -- cure rater. the french not being as nearly concerned with privacy as we. she gave it to me right away. so i called him up, and right away he sounded kind of nervous.
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and i told him who i was and why i was there. i had seen part of his collection at the museum. i would like to see it. and his response was, eh. which i didn't take as a question. so i decided to play the best card i had in my hand right away. i told him i had met eugene lee. i figured somebody who knows as much as bella wood it's going to be meaningful. i was right. his response was come over. he lived in a modern house. a very nice house on the edge of the town. very different from the other place, which was quite old. and the first thing i noticed when he welcomed me inside he had a state-of-the-art security system, which was very unusual in small town france. he seemed very nervous by my presence, but he invited me up staired.
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i tried everything i could think to get him to be more at ease. i should tell you. his name is george. george is with an s at the end. bially. so he's george bailee. and i -- so i asked him how things were going at the bedford fall saving and loan. [laughter] he did not respond as you all did. or even at all. but he got a little more comfortable with me and lead me upstairses. his collection was housed in one enormous room was the entire upstairs of his house, and it was just something to see. he had mannequins with complete german uniforms on them. they were impeccable. on one wall he had a rack with 30 or so the spiked german helmets. and each and every one of them looked like they were brand
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new. he took me over and started showing me them. he showed me every single one of them of somehow subtly different from every other one. this one was from a bo vary min regimen. there was an engineers. he could go on and on about them. the bulk of his collection was housed in a series of massive cabinets over on another wall. with very large drawers and he opened up some of the draws and showed me. one was full of identification disks. that's all it was. must have represented hundred of men. german, e american, french, another was full of insignia and pieces of uniform. another one full of bullets and cartridges. another full of cut -- forks and knives. he had a series of file cabinets.
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in each one was full of index cards. and each index card represented a sickle -- single item in his collection. thousands and thousands and thousands of items. each one detailed on it own index card. meticulously organized as much as he had. he knew exactly where everything was. and he got so excited talking about all of this, that he threat slip not only was he a collector. he was a dealer, which in certain circles in france is fighting words. but i recognized this as sort of the a moment he finally let his guard down, so i jumped in and i told him about the cover. and i asked him who had it. and he said, yes, i heard about that. somebody else bought it. and i said, who, mr. bailey? he went --
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which really didn't tell me very much, except that he wasn't going tell me. whether he knew or not, i don't know. and he turned the table on me. he asked me a question he said did you meet you agree lee, i said, i interviewed him on december 3rd, 2003. mr. lee died a day after the 105 birthday on march 25, 2004. i told him about the interview, and the stories he told me about literary literary lifting and bellawood. mr. bailey got a smile over his face, and it was a very mysterious smile, and he said to me, do you know the name joe? [laughter] i kind of looked at him for a minute, and i said, yes, i do. he was a very good friend of mr. lee.
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he told me a lot about him, but, mr. bailey, how do you know the name? he smiled and went -- and scurried over to a file cabinet and opened a drawer and flipped through the index cards for a couple of minute until he found the one he was looking for. he took it out, held it up, read it, and walked across the room to one of the big cabinets, opened up a drawer, i saw it was a drawer full of forks, knives, spoons. and dug around in for a couple of minutes, and pulled out a fork. he held the fork up, inspected it for a minute, then crossed the room with a look on his face. he handed it to me. i took a look at the fork, the dark oxidized but in perfect condition, and it had a six-digit serial number ton and four letters.
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wnuk. and he showed me the index card, and it say wnuk joseph, s. fork found november 5, new york. he had a tremendous amount of information on joe. he had the date of enlistment, which was april 27th, 1917 at philadelphia pa. he had the citation. he won a silver star. he had the date he was wounded june 11, 1918, the location he was wounded and on and on and on. i should point out he found the fork in 1993. he found the information well before google. it was really, really impressive. but there was one piece of the story that he didn't have, and i did have this piece of the story, because i had met eugene lee. that's this, after they got sent
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back, they worked hard to keep each other's spirits up. they talked a lot about they had done in the hospital. what they would do once they got home. the fighting was often terrible. but there were quiet periods too or relatively quiet periods. even during the quiet periods, though, the germans wanted to let the americans know they were still out there. so every once awhile they would send up a shell from a mile or two away to let the americans know they were out there. the americans would respond in kind. one night, 51st company of the fifth marine regimen was crossing the river, and the germans threw up a shell, and it landed behind them in the river. it killed joe wnuk. the night in question was november 10th, 1918, it was the last night of the war. maybe 12 hours left until the
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armistice. like i said, i only knew that part of the story because i had met eugene lee and shared at the last possible moment his memories of world war i, and of the 51st company of the fifth marine regimen in bellawood, and his friends joe wnuk. and, you know, eugene lee told me at some point recounting a story he hasn't told in fifty, 60, 70 years. at lough -- lot of people said that to me. he told me something that a bunch of people told me as well. nobody asked. and if i hadn't found him, almost accidentally through an article, a little half paragraph at the end of small town newspaper and gone to interview him, that story would have been
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lost too. and so i just want to leave you with the thought that ask. if you know somebody who you know has an interesting story to tell, ask them. because otherwise that story may be lost. , and now even though the last of the doughboys are gone, we have the art facts with football we're lucky, we know the stories and the memories that are connected to them. and i've tried to set some of them down in the book, and i hope you enjoy it. thank you for coming. [applause] [applause] i would be happy to take questions. >> yes, sir? >> there was another book published in the last two years within it's written by an englishman. you probably know it. it consistencies mainly of an interview or interview-format of
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people who experience the horror of world war i, including civilians. >> yeah. >> does your book follow a similar format? >> well, my book is -- no, it doesn't. they come out of the archive of the war museum in london. that's pretty much straight oral history. but what i wanted when i set out was a narrative. a narrative that would em compass the story of america in world war i. and a very important part of the narrative is who were the people still around to talk about it 85, 86, 87 years after ward? and so i tell the story as if i'm inviting the reader along on a journey to meet the people. there's more to it than straight oral history. that was really more than just high-minded goal. it was really necessary, because
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when you are dealing with people that old, recalling that things that long ago. even though as you know the answer where the guy went to high school. not everybody's memory was so vivid. there were big holes in just about every story i heard. you have to go around them to fill the holes in. i felt it was important to make sure that those holes were filled in. this was really the last opportunity to tell these stories. so, thank you. >> yes? >> did you encounter anyone who declined to speak with you? the veterans? >> no. i didn't encounter any veterans who declined to speak with me, but i did encounter veteran's families who were not interested in having me speak to their father or grandfather or uncle for fear -- it's a reasonable fear, that this would be dredging up
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unpleasant memories, and as i said, that's reasonable. the good part of the story is that not only were the several -- the did few dozen men and wiment i interviewed. not only were they willing but eager to speak to me. they recognized the time was short. they wanted to pass the stories on to somebody else. so a funny story they tell sometimes is that there was one gentleman i interviewed. his name was george. he was 103 years old when i met him. he was happy too talk to me, but his wife, who was 101, wasn't so keen on it. in fact, their god daughter, they had one son and he died young. the closest family was a god daughter told me when i called up to set up time to visit, she said i'm going have to keep mom
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distracted so she's not there. i said, that's okay. i like that have, if any,s in the room. that helps, you know, i find helps jar memories. she said, no. you don't want her there. and she was there anyway. she was not able to distract her godmother. his 101--year-old wife was there. i should point out the time i interviewed him, i believe it was september 18, 2004. they had been married for 83 years. and -- i found out very quickly her objection to my interviewing her husband wasn't that it might dredge up unpleasant memory. it was i wasn't there to interview her. i haven't posted video up yet. i have a website and i posted video clip. eventually i'll put up too. you'll see only he is on camera, but you can very clearly hear her voice off camera answering
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questions that have been posed to him. [laughter] and i might add, in a thick cay can -- accent. to an your questions, no, the veterans were perfectly happy to speak with me. it was probably the greatest lucky break i got in the process. >> i'm not familiar with doughboys where it comes from. it may be common knowledge. >> it's not. t actually disputed. the term doughboy refers to an american infantry men of the american expedition their forces world war i. it's a specific term. it doesn't refer to a sailor. there was a different piece of slang that was used to describe a sailor in world war i which was gob which has disappeared. doughboy origins of doughboy are disputed. the two leading, as far as i know --
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the first dates back to the mexican war in 18904. they were spotted marching through a american landscape and it looked like they were rolled in flour. the other leading theory is that salvation army involve tier went over to france in world war i and set up canteen serving hot coffee and conuts. this was the first time that the great many americans encountered the doughnut. before that it was a regional treat. after that, the doughnut became popular throughout america. i like that theory better. i think it's probably more likely the first one. so. yeah? >> [inaudible] the song i remember johnny doughboy. ♪ my father was one of those people who left school at age 16 and joined army. he was from portland high school. and very proud do that. he came back and finished.
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and he went to france, and i have some letters that he wrote to my mother from france, and for art facts, i have his purple heart. he was gassed. and also, a bullet shell. on it is carved 1918. >> yeah. that's common, actually. it's. >> oh. >> there a whole field -- >> i might have to have talk with the dealer. [laughter] >> maybe. [laughter] >> i wonder if anybody tried to call him. that's called trench art. soldiers had a lot of down time in the trenches with and they would often carve thing kind of like sailors did scrim shaw a century earlier. that's interesting. but that -- you know, i heard from a lot of people since the book was published who tell me that they never realized they had somebody
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in their family in world war i until they opened an old chest and found a bunch of paper or opened an old book on a shelf and found a letter home from fran or something like that. and, you know, it's an interesting thing. i talk about bella wood and people dug art facts up out of the earth. in other part of the france, you don't have to dig. every time a field plowed, to this day, things pop up. every time. i have walking through a field in the town of are main, france. a morning in june of 2009, and a couple of minutes in to it i found five bullets sit on the surface. and nearby a five-cartridges and over here a comb. ore there a button from a uniform. and just as i was about to leave. i looked down and there was a shell this big. just sitting on the dirt. plowed up that morning.
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and my guide gentleman probably saved me from myself. my first impulse was to fibbing up. and every year in france, people are killed or maimed by unexploded world war i ordinance. experts say this kind of stuff will continue to pop up for 300 yeersd. i would like that think things like letter and purpose the hearts and things like that will continue to pop up. and, you know, keep reminding us that we were in world war i too. so, sir, do you have a question? >> did you have your hand raised? >> well, i actually did have a question. i assume since you were oriented to narrative that you didn't get much in to actual conditions in the trenches living in the mud, disease, -- [inaudible] ♪ how long people lasted. how they put up with the -- [cell phone ringing] >> sure. the difficulty was that the men
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they interviewed for the most part, were very stoic, and so they were disinclined to remember conditions as being very bad. and so that gentle map i told you about, jay lawrence, he served in france longer than just about any american. his division was the first division to go over. and i asked him at one point what were the trenches like? he said, they were fine, you know, you had wooden boards on the bottom, and, you know, kind of described the actual assembly of a trench, but he didn't talk about what you often read about when you rabbet about the trenches. they were terrible places to be. they were muddy and filthy and full of rats and lice. but that just wasn't the way he saw things. he said to me once nothing had
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really ever been hard for him in his life. i know, that's not true. i knew what he went through in the war. i asked him, in fact, i said did you get gassed? he said, yeah, practically all the shells had gas in them. i was stunned because, you know, if you know anything about world war i. you know about gas. it did terrible things to people. it could kill you, it could blind you, bliss arer your skin. it could take years and years to kill you. like my mother told me sixty years on there were people never recovered from being gassed. i said what was it like? he said, it wasn't too bad. i lost my voice for a few days. it came back eventually that was really set the stage for what i was going hear for most of the people i interviewed. they were stoic people. maybe that's a function of their generation, or maybe that's a function of the fact they were, you know, on average 107 years old, and you have to be stoic if you want to live to be that old.
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i don't know. [inaudible] things so grizzly that they really don't -- they repressed them. it could be. >> it could be. we did talk about conditions. like i said, that was one of the areas in which i kind-to work around the memories. it was another veteran, gentleman named moses, those were combat engineers. they worked very close to the front, and why asked them, you know, did you ever -- were you in danger he said no. later i found a history of his regular men the 805th and read account of their service, which were written right after the arm ties. he was in danger all the time. almost every day since he arrived in france. so, you know, that's -- it could be memory. it would be just stoicism. i don't know. we certainly -- i certainly did ask about it.
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oh. ma'am? >> he said you have -- [inaudible] >> i did. i interviewed three women. two of them served -- they were women on the french list awarded the lee gone of honor. they served as nurses. i didn't get to interview them. i interviewed three women. two of them what was known as -- well, they were among the very first women to serve in uniform in any branch of the military. they served in the navy. this is a forgotten episode of world war i. their service as as a result of a clerical error. it was a that value acted. it went to great detail about everything you had to do and be to qualify to serve in the navy. it forgot to mention you had to be male. [laughter] and somebody mentioned this to secretary of the navy in 1917, and his credit he said let it
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stand. before the war was over 11,000 women enlested in the -- enlisted in the navy. they were known as the -- [inaudible] which is a name that sounds rather quaint today perhaps a bit are chiic. they did mostly clerical work in washington. all but five of them served state side. and they were discharged immediately. they became very active. they found an american lee gone post. they agitated for better conditions for women in the military. they set the stage for women to serve in greater numbers in world war ii. that wouldn't have been possible without the program. and the third woman i interviewed was a civilian who had been as she told it drafted to work for the war department in washington. she had been an 18-year-old girl, in the bronx, daughter of swedish immigrants and she was a
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secretary. and one day her boss told her to take a civil service exam. she did. a few weeks later, she got a telegram at her home in the bronx at 1:00 in the morning telling her to report to washington on december 17, 1917. she called up the washington department and asked if she could come after christmas. they said no. she worked for the department and took a cut in pay. had to pay her room and board. she loved it. and continued to work for the government years after the war. those are the three women i was fortune enough to interview. >> sir, did you have another question? >> yes. i see your book is subtitled "the forgotten generation and the forgotten world war" why did you and/or your publisher decide it call it forgotten? >> well, i don't think of it as forgotten. >> i'm glad you do, but really to a tremendous extent in this
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country, world war i has been forgotten. go to any big box bookstore and in the history department you'll see cases and cases of books about the civil war, and cases and cases of books about world war ii and maybe a shelf. and it really, you know, i almost didn't notice it as chris said when he was introducing me. there are more monuments to world war i than any war. ..


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